The Hurricanes entered this off-season with a number of important decisions. Now, with the draft and the first few days of free agency, most of these decisions are being made. Aside from the potential for a top / center six winger to be added, the roster is pretty much full for the next year.
Carolina came back from a season in which she won her first division title since 2006 and fell in the second round against eventual re-champions Tampa Bay Lightning to improve and take the next step towards the Stanley Cup.
With just over two months to go to the start of the season, the Hurricanes have done the following with regard to the NHL roster:
OUT: Dougie Hamilton, Brock McGinn, Alex Nedeljkovic, James Reimer, Petr Mrazek, Jani Hakanpaa, Cedric Paquette, Warren Foegele, Jake Bean, Morgan Geekie
IN: Jordan Martinook (re-signed), Ethan Bear, Ian Cole, Josh Leivo, Derek Stepan, Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Smith
So, is the team better, what was the goal? It’s hard to say now, especially after the risks Carolina took in her two most important decisions.
That’s not to say that all of the moves they made were bad. Some were fine – even good! Cole makes a good addition to a one-year contract – a physical, defensively solid, shot-blocking defender who should look good in the third pairing of the Hurricanes.
It was a very smart move to trade a player in a situation where both sides were willing to move on in Warren Foegele for a promising young defender in Ethan Bear. It hurts to lose a long-time heart and soul like McGinn, but the deal the Penguins gave him – four years, $ 2.75 million AAV – was one the team was likely to pass on.
Josh Leivo is an inexpensive addition to the bottom six. Derek Stepan should be a good fourth row center. Signing Jordan Martinook – a leader in the locker room and community – at a slight discount was a good move.
But neither represented the team’s two most important decisions – either signing or replacing Dougie Hamilton and what to do online. And in making those decisions, the Hurricanes took some huge risks – ones that make it difficult to better name this group on paper.
Let’s start with Hamilton. He’s, quite simply, one of the best defenders in the NHL. He just finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting and became the NHL’s second All-Star Team.
He’s an elite game driver and power play producer, and a player the Hurricanes couldn’t afford to lose.
Dougie Hamilton, signed by NJ $ 7 million x $ 9 million, is one of the best attacking defenders in the league. He has an elite punch and loves to use it and powers the game like few other blueliners in the league. Has some problems of her own and tends to take bad punishments. #NJDevils pic.twitter.com/oyKmbcFxyj
– JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 28, 2021
The contract the Devils gave Hamilton will certainly pose a risk as they age and would have been for a Hurricanes team that has to pay other players. But over the course of a cup competition window, teams usually have to make at least one â€œbadâ€ / risky deal. The Chicago Blackhawks certainly knew that long-term contracts for players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were unlikely to age well. The same goes for the Los Angeles Kings with Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick.
But do these teams, who have won multiple trophies in their windows, regret these deals for a second? Probably not. And, as this off-season and the Arizona Coyotes demonstrated, you can usually find a way to make a bad contract go away. And if you got a “bad” deal that might not age well, a team supposedly trying to win now could do worse than give market value to a legitimate top pair defender and one of their best recent players 3 years.
The Hurricanes appear to have taken a two-pronged approach to replacing Hamilton. Bear will no doubt play some of his minutes in the top four and could take a look at the power play. But the primary power play replacement is the controversial Tony DeAngelo, who signed a $ 1 million one-year deal.
We previously discussed how risky and immoral it is from an off-ice perspective to sign a player whose track record includes a physical altercation with a teammate in New York and a suspension for violating league harassment and abuse and diversity policies that results from denigrating a teammate.
But it’s also risky from an on-ice perspective. While it is true that DeAngelo is a year away from a season where he scored 53 points in 68 games, including 19 in power play, after just six games last season, there is no guarantee he will return to that form . And he’s not exactly a defensive star (the heat maps below show the offensive against his team when he’s on the ice).
However, for technical reasons, his model estimates are extremely interesting to me as they suggest something strange is going on and I don’t know what it is. This is his career so far in terms of my 5v5 xG model. pic.twitter.com/A1rYDvVqg6
– Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffektivMath) January 31, 2021
With Hamilton and Jake Bean gone, DeAngelo’s ability to be an effective power play quarterback will take a lot of it off.
However, that’s not the only risk the Hurricanes took. They made the surprising decision to swap Alex Nedeljkovic after a stellar season in which he was nominated for the Calder Trophy – for Jonathan Bernier (whom they did not sign) for the Detroit Red Wings and one election for the third round.
Nedeljkovic then signed a two-year deal with Detroit for a $ 3 million AAV. The Hurricanes apparently weren’t ready to pay that to a goalkeeper who had been with their organization for five years. He’s had a stellar run leading the league on save percentage and finishing with the lowest goals compared to average, but the sample size (27 NHL career starts) was tiny by goalkeeping standards.
Don Waddell said the Hurricanes who wanted to fight for the Cup wanted a skilled goalkeeper, a more proven, safer option. This is logical and a thought process that, while not popular, was easy to follow. But what are the next steps you have taken? Not as much.
Based on the past few years, it’s hard to call Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta safer options than Nedeljkovic or Petr Mrazek.
Raanta was great for the Coyotes when he was healthy, but that was exactly the problem as he has faced a number of injuries over the past few years. But the contract he got – two years, AAV 2 million, was reasonable, especially when he was with a safer partner.
Well the hurricanes didn’t do that. They signed Andersen, who was an excellent goalkeeper for the Ducks and Maples Leafs from 2013 to 2019. But they’re betting big, at the rate of a two-year contract with an AAV of $ 4.5 million on a goalkeeper whose numbers plummeted as he sustained a few injuries in the last two seasons as well.
Last year, in 23 starts, Andersen posted a 0.895 savings rate and 2.96 goals versus average. The Hurricanes are apparently so confident they are recovering that they could give him more than Nedeljkovic or Mrazek, who was healthy last season, got with the Maple Leafs, with their new teams.
Now it’s entirely possible that the tandem will prove to be a great move for the Hurricanes. Both are not far from much better performances and could both play better behind players like Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei.
But today, on paper, based on last season alone, it’s hard to argue that the hurricanes have gotten better on the net.
It’s hard to argue that they got any better at all. Adding another top six striker – which Carolina has plenty of room in the cap even after signing RFA striker Andrei Svechnikov – would help a lot.
But this was a team that entered the offseason to get better and take the next step. After running an elite talent like Hamilton and moving on to two very high risk and high reward goalkeepers, it takes a pretty big leap of faith to be sure that this group is better than the one that Carolina started the 2020- 21 has finished.